18 May 2015

Dental treatment traumatised girl

6:55 pm on 18 May 2015

A child who was left in tears as a dentist removed her teeth without consent was told she was "leaking all over the place", the Health and Disability Commissioner has been told.

A file photo of a chair in a dentist's surgery

Photo: 123RF

The 11-year-old girl had gone to the dentist with her mother and her mother's friend in April 2014, in what was her third visit to the dentist. The appointment was to assess her development and decide whether she needed orthodontic treatment.

Her mother and her mother's friend were at the appointment, during which the dentist decided to remove the three "very loose" baby teeth, Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner Theo Baker said in a report released today.

"Based on my experience and clinical assessment of the state of [the] teeth, I considered I could remove them quickly and painlessly, and that this would be the preferred course of action," the dentist told the Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC).

"I made a judgement call that administering an anaesthetic and discussing the issue with [the girl] prior to removal would cause her greater distress, as would delaying the removal by referral to a general dentist.

"It should be noted that the administration of an anaesthetic in itself can cause pain and distress and be upsetting to a child."

The dentist removed two of the teeth but had to lie the girl down to take the third out; her mother told the HDC the dentist's assistant had to hold her daughter down to while it was done and made insensitive comments.

These included "Oh look, we've got waterworks now" and "Aww, she's leaking all over the place".

Her mother's friend said the girl was agitated and squirming, "at which point the nurse proceeded to hold [her] arms down ... the nurse began making comments, with very little empathy".

The dentist also wanted to take photos of the girl's mouth after the procedure and, when she would not smile, the assistant said "someone make this girl smile", her mother said.

The dentist did not accept the girl was held down or spoken to inappropriately, saying she was "gently guiding" her, that the comments were meant in a way to distract the child and the three extractions took less than two minutes.

He said he could not remember what his assistant said while the photographs were taken but that any comments were intended to be humorous and to distract the girl.

The girl's mother said the episode had left her daughter traumatised, which was unfortunate as she could need braces.

Ms Baker ordered the dentist to apologise in writing to the girl and her mother - which he had done - and also that the Dental Council of New Zealand review his competence and report back to her.

She also recommended the clinic give its staff training on informed consent.

She was unable to decide whether the girl was held down or inappropriate comments were made due to conflicting reports.

"It is important that consumers, and their families, are treated with professionalism and courtesy at all times, and I consider it is the responsibility of the clinic to ensure that this occurs," Ms Baker said.